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I know my friend Heidi Mordhorst is getting ready for a juicy-good school year. Heidi is hosting Poetry Friday this week at My Juicy Little Universe.

It’s the last Poetry Friday before school begins.

Let’s have a serious talk, friends. Last year, I was sitting in my teen’s school auditorium for an awards ceremony. The event celebrated students who were academic achievers, as well as stand-outs in art, volunteerism, and other areas. My kid wasn’t being recognized. She was alone, unseen in the production booth, running sound for the event (a skill she picked up from volunteering for a local theater troupe).

Earlier in the school year, my husband and I realized that our child suffers from depression, which runs on both sides of our family. As soon as that lightbulb went off, we were able to work on treatment. That has made a huge difference in all of our lives. (Here is a listing of online resources for teen depression.)

So, I sat in that auditorium to support my amazing daughter and began to think: There are hidden kinds of achievements. Where are the awards for the kids who struggle to make it to school every day? Who deal with learning differences or mental illness? Why don’t we recognize and honor kids who work hard and achieve their best despite coping with depression or chronic illness?

Last week, I mentioned that I often avoid reading books that I know will be emotionally difficult for me. Most of the time, when I finally dive in, I’m glad that I read the book.

But sometimes there’s a book that I mistakenly think will be a straightforward sci fi novel, a thriller, or a fantasy, and the author slips challenging themes in there! To be honest, I love when that happens.

Rebecca Podos’ THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES is one of those books.

Teenager Imogene has never known her mother. She lives with her father, a scientist who now writes medical thrillers, and his new wife. When her father goes missing, Imogene is sure that her mother will have a clue leading to his whereabouts. After reluctantly accepting help from her best friend, Imogene plays detective: First she must find the mother who left her as a baby. Then, she has to find her father.

Sounds like a straightforward teen mystery, right? What underpins this story, adding layers to Imogene’s character and her worldview, is that her father’s mental illness has relapsed. Imogene’s hard edges, her mixed feelings about her closest friends and the emotional walls she puts up, all reflect the fact that she has grown up with a parent who (most of the time) copes with that illness.

It is a gorgeous book. Imogene’s complicated relationship with her best friend Jessa is one of the most honest portrayals of female friendship that I’ve read in YA. This was a book that I could not put down.

THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES published in January, 2016. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when Imogene was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”

Now Imogene is seventeen, and her father, a famous author of medical mysteries, has struck out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. And she decides it’s up to her to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of reading her father’s books to track down a woman she’s only known in stories in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.

Recommended for mature eighth grade and up.

Who will like it?

  • Fans of contemporary mystery.
  • Teens who like books about everyday people dealing with extraordinary, real-life circumstances.
  • Kids who like reading about complicated families.

What will readers learn about?

  • What it’s like to have a parent who deals with mental illness.
  • How opening up to friends and family can help those relationships grow and deepen.

I’m pairing a favorite poem with THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES. William Butler Yeatts “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” has a mournful, dreamlike quality to it that reminds me of Imogene’s father.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.


What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?

Middle Grade Books
THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S, by Lee Gjertsen Malone (6/16/16)
TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, by Shari Schwarz (3/31/16)
THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY, by Janet Sumner Johnson (3/25/16)
COUNTING THYME, by Melanie Conklin (12/31/15)
FENWAY AND HATTIE, by Victoria J. Coe (12/24/15)
THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE, by Jen Maschari (12/3/15)
PAPER WISHES, by Lois Sepahban (11/19/15)
MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, by Brooks Benjamin (7/22/15)

YA Novels
UNDERWATER, by Marisa Reichardt (8/18/16)
SWORD AND VERSE, by Kathy MacMillan (5/22/16)
GENESIS GIRL, by Jennifer Bardsley (4/13/16)
THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, by Heidi Heilig (3/10/16)
THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, by Natalie Blitt (1/19/16)
THE GIRL WHO FELL, by S. M. Parker (11/5/15)
SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, by Jeff Garvin (10/29/15)
SHALLOW GRAVES, by Kali Wallace (10/1/15)

15 responses to “Laura’s Bookshelf: The Mystery of Hollow Places”

  1. That does sound like a great book. I love the poem. I wonder if that poem inspired Thoreau.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I used to teach the poem with A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. It was a great way to focus on the theme of unreachable dreams.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    I agree that there are many things to celebrate in students’ achievement, and hope that teachers recognize that in personal connections, Laura. I’m glad you found a way to help your daughter. This book is already on my list from another blogger review, but also will keep it because my granddaughter’s name is Imogene-maybe someday she will read it? I love listening to Yeatts read his poem, too, somber and thoughtful.

  3. Laura, thank you for sharing a sensitive issue with all of us. As parents, we are always yearning to find ways for each of our children to shine and find their way in life. It is a similar feeling that teachers have for their young learners. Your post with poem and book review are a great match. Thank you.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I agree with you, Carol. That’s part of why the one on one connection between teacher and student is so important. Thanks for the comment.

  4. jan annino says:

    The backstage crews of theater & movie productions are wizards. Most of us & that means me, will never fathom how it is they manage to handle sound, lights & much more. I am so excited this teen’s ability to do this.

    I feel fortunate to know a parent like you, altho only online & in email. You give us all hope for the future & remind me of my mother, an advocate for under-appreciated students whose skills didn’t match those of the A+ crowd.

    This author/book is new to me. I have noted it.

    And the Yeats poem is a soothing one to think of if & when our days are more on the “pavement grey” side of things. Appreciations!

  5. So glad that your daughter is getting the help she needs, Laura. Here’s to recognizing ALL achievers! And thanks for another great book review and pairing today.

  6. Tabatha says:

    Such a lush and gorgeous poem. Thanks for sharing your insights and wisdom with us, Laura. xo

  7. I love this Yeats poem–it is longing embodied in striking language about a beautiful place. Peace IS dropping slow…you have to stop along the grey pavement to feel it, and you have to pause in the hubbub of the auditorium to hear what else is going on in the bee-loud glade.

    Your list of books demonstrates that choosing a memorable title is very difficult indeed!

  8. Ruth says:

    YES to the awards for kids who struggle to make it to school every day! And there are so many reasons they struggle. I’m putting this book on my wish list. And of course I always love a visit to Innisfree!

  9. Julieanne says:

    You bring up a very big point. The hidden and unacknowledged heroes who face and surmount difficulties no one sees are not given awards. Thank goodness your girl has perceptive and attentive parents who support and see her.

    And that last stanza, a perfect pairing: “night and day”

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thank you Julieanne. It took some time for us to figure out what was going on, but I’m so glad that we’ve been able to get her good support.

  10. Such an important post, Laura. If only schools recognize “hidden kinds of achievements” much more often than they do. Thanks for the book recommendation and poem. Sending you and your daughter healing vibes. =)

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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